Staying in with Rosemary Johnston


It’s a real pleasure to welcome Rosemary Johnston to Linda’s Book Bag today as the book Rosemary has brought along to discuss as we stay in together sounds exactly my kind of read. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Rosemary Johnston

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Rosemary and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I have brought along my debut novella Source. It is about a woman, Kate, who returns to the west of Ireland with her teenage daughter Lavinia. She has come to clear out the family farm after the death of her parents. She isn’t really interested in anything that has been left behind at the farm except her father’s dictionary. The next day, she bumps into an old boyfriend, Brian, and together they discuss what has become of their lives and the reasons why Kate left to go and live in England. But it is also a book about migration and how, when we leave, we take our language with us, and as we migrate and change, so do words. But something of our original lives, or the meaning of the original words remains behind.

It sounds brilliant. What can we expect from an evening in with Source?

I suppose you’d call it literary fiction. But it is also a novella so it is quite short, only 12,000 words. You could read it all in one evening. It’s quite an emotional read, maybe a bit dark at times. There were parts of it that made me cry when I was writing it! I couldn’t believe the things the characters were saying to each other! But it has an uplifting ending.

I love a book where I can have a good cry Rosemary. What else will I find between the pages of Source?

It’s also quite thought-provoking, I think, in the parts of the book that about words and their etymologies. But it isn’t a difficult book to read. Because the main character, Kate, is interested in words, and what you can learn about the history of a word from the information contained in dictionaries, I decided to try and let her create a little sub story using only Viking words. When I started looking into it, it is amazing how many there are still in everyday use. But I finish the book with three Viking words which I think have a beautiful sound and I think if those words were spoken by someone from the north of Scotland, they’d sound just the same today as they sounded when spoken by the Vikings 1000 years ago. Those three words have also a very beautiful meaning. But if you want to know what those words are, you need to buy the book and read it to the end!

I think we certainly do. Source sounds so fascinating. I love the concept of words themselves being part of the story, not just the vehicle for telling it.

I like to think of this book like a song, something you could sing, or that sings to you. Like one of those evenings of singing and story telling with something to drink to make it all flow better.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought along a bottle of wine, a Pouilly Fumé, because it is referred to in the book, but it is a nice wine too. And will no doubt help with conversation. The craic, as they say! I’ve also got some music, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. Very atmospheric.

Well quite! And what’s that you’ve got?

It’s an extract from Source.

An Extract from Source

“Keep that book,” said Kate.

“What is it?” asked Lavinia.

“Poetry. Patrick Kavanagh.”

“Did granny like poetry?”

“No, she never read anything. It was your granddad’s book. There’s a dictionary somewhere. Keep that as well.”

Kate took the book from her fair haired, freckled daughter. She looked through its thick, mildewed pages for the poem that had been her first introduction to grown up poetry, many years ago. She could almost see her younger self, sitting cross legged and hesitant in front of the bookcase, not sure if it was permitted or not, to read grown up poetry.

Her father had found her there and asked what she was reading.

“Ah!” he said “Kavanagh! Great choice.”

And he opened the book and started to read:

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew

That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue.”

He gave her back the book and said “We should pay more heed to the poets.”

At the time Kate had taken it as a general piece of advice.

“He liked poetry and history and languages,” Kate said. “The things he loved I came to love.”

“How did they meet?” asked Lavinia.

“He came to Connemara on the back of his friend’s motor bike. It was to the wedding of a cousin of his friend. Granny was there. Love at first sight. He wooed her with the poetry and all that.”

“Is this what you wanted?” asked Lavinia, handing an old book to Kate.

“Yes, that’s it. It’s his dictionary.”

Despite Kate’s claim that the objects in the house would provoke no sentiment, holding the dictionary filled her with that empty feeling that loss could fire at you; clearly the person who had made use of the book was no longer here to do so.

“It’s very precious.”

“That old thing?” Lavinia held her hand across her mouth. “That smell. It’s making me gag.”

“You don’t need to be so dramatic about it,” said Kate, smelling the book. But it was true, the book was musty, as if all the old words had gone off a bit, unused and trapped inside. Let us out! they might whisper. And the words in it might well be the key to unlocking the past. But the odour the trapped words gave off seemed to hold within it an accusation that it was the past itself that was tainted, no matter which words were chosen to describe it. Kate set the book down.


I’m intrigued Rosemary. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Source. You pour yourself a glass of wine and turn up Bruce and I’ll give blog readers a few more Source details:


Kate and her teenage daughter return to Ireland to sort through what is left of the family farm. But in doing so, Kate is brought to all the reasons she left many years ago. She can find no attachment to the objects of her past until she comes across her father’s dictionary.

Can words be the way for her to unlock the past? Can they help pave the way towards reconciliation? Can they help us understand ourselves?

Source is a book about beginnings and homeland and the words that accompany us on our journey.

Source is available in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

About Rosemary Johnston

Rosemary Johnston grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland and lives in North Yorkshire with her family. She has written for adults and children, and regularly writes articles on poetry, language and history. Her plays have been produced at the Gateway Theatre in Chester and she has completed a debut novel The Children of Angels’ Eyrie. She is an editor of Vixen Magazine.

You can follow Rosemary on Twitter @angelseyrie1901.

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